Dangers of ‘freethinking’ in a digital age

Erin Beattie

Kanye West’s return to Twitter after a long hiatus has sparked quite the conversation in our country.

Stirring up a large amount of controversy within a week, it seems West is really trying to make up for lost time. In a series of rapid fire tweets the rapper has managed to compliment President Donald Trump’s “dragon energy,” show off his signed MAGA cap, denounce 400 years of slavery, bash Obama for doing nothing in Chicago during his presidency and post personal text conversations from his high profile friends calling his behavior out.

Kanye has explained his recent stream of consciousness as “freethinking.”

What we must realize is that this approach to both historical and present political and social conditions is a dangerous one. He has projected his own self-concept and psychology onto other people’s lives without giving a thought to the complexity of these issues.

By claiming the title of a free thinker, he has asked the public to view him as an equal instead of recognizing the position of power he has and the responsibilities that come along with that position.

As a millennial, I understand that Twitter is an online platform where we are let into the most random yet intimate thoughts from the figures we choose to follow. Many people, myself included, have tweeted frantically in the past without thinking about the consequences of our words.

We should not be surprised by Kanye’s behavior. He is a product of a society in which we can tune into our own President’s thoughts throughout the day.

He’s been known to make a scene in the real world. We can’t forget that this is the same guy who infamously interrupted Taylor Swift during an acceptance speech. This is the same guy who is known to rant on stage during his concerts. It’s also been no secret that Kanye is a friend of Trump, meeting with him on multiple occasions. He’s even teased that Trump becoming President has shown him the exact path that it would take him to run in the future.

What Kanye made clear this week through his return to Twitter is that he is just being himself. That being said, we must be careful in how we choose to respond to the behavior of public figures.

Many public figures choose to hire teams to mediate the content they present to followers online, while others like Kanye or our President choose to speak to the public themselves, unmediated and unfiltered.

Consumers and participants of media must understand the difference between the two and what’s lost when private thoughts are made public. The effects of communication through Twitter should not be trivialized when it comes to our public officials.  

It’s important to recognize that social media platforms have allowed us to get inside the head of celebrities and public figures in a way older generations have not had in the past, Twitter especially, because social media has become more than a platform. It has become a marketplace of ideas.

The concept of the marketplace of ideas was developed by the philosopher of John Milton as a rationale for freedom of expression based off of the economic free market.

It is the idea that truth will emerge from the competition of ideas in a free, transparent public setting and assumes that the ideas and ideologies put forth will be examined and considered by the majority of a population.

It plays into free speech, which should be tolerated constitutionally and has been used to defend the freedom of the press throughout our nation’s history.

With this freedom comes a responsibility to hold public figures and media to a higher standard than we would hold ourselves.

This is where Kanye runs into trouble.

As Kanye began trending, many people including Trump, have embraced and praised Kanye’s “freethinking.” This has happened even though Kanye stated himself that, “I don’t agree with everything Trump does.”

In doing this, Kanye is showing he is comfortable overlooking problematic behaviors and historical facts in favor of the President’s personality and approach.

Even if he didn’t mean to, the rapper’s tweets about Trump have boosted the President’s approval ratings from 11 percent to 22 percent in one week.

This kind of influence should make you raise your eyebrow, whether or not you agree with Kanye. It should make you want to unpack his rants and examine the rhetoric behind his statements.

Because Kanye is allowed to have opinions. He is allowed to support Trump. He is allowed to be himself. What he must realize is that when you make yourself a participant in the political conversation, your “free” thoughts come at a cost for others.